For 26 years, I served as an agent to dealers, mostly in Colorado. I say “served” because I felt my No. 1 duty was to improve each store’s performance in all departments, including F&I. As such, there was no cookie-cutter approach that worked for all my clients. Each store had its unique set of challenges, which made the job interesting.
But as I look back, I can identify 10 activities I think all F&I professionals — including those who aspire to be top producers — should always engage in. To some, these practices will seem like common sense. But I have found that a high percentage of F&I managers and directors rarely if ever do all of them.
1. They Drop the Me-First Attitude.
Too often I trained F&I managers who were only concerned about their lot in life. This intense “me-first” attitude — while temporarily successful for some — usually ended up with frustrated and unhappy employees.
Whenever things went awry, they felt they had been wronged, regardless of the circumstances. It was time to find a new home where people appreciated their “talent.”
Meanwhile, those who first concentrated on the customer — whether it be the buying public or a fellow employee — had little change in their performance. They knew their rewards would come later, and the calmness they experienced helped them weather the ups and downs of sales success.
These F&I professionals enjoyed their workplace, their fellow employees, and the customers. Those who always put others first were usually the most stable managers I dealt with.
2. They Don’t Sweat Slumps.
A true professional knows that, short of getting a concussion, they have the tools to be successful. Most F&I managers, for example, can virtually predict their coming year’s income on Jan. 1, assuming normal sales volume.
As such, a two-week or even one-month “slump” is no big deal. It’s just part of the ebb and flow of their position.
Those who always put others first and were usually the most stable managers I dealt with.
On the other hand, nonprofessionals — as well as rookies — tend to panic at five bad deals in a row. They then press too hard with customers. The air is filled with “commission breath.” The customer is put off by this and the slump continues.
Sticking to your proven selling system and accepting the ups and downs results in less stress and more success in the end.
3. They Know They’re Never Good Enough.
I was that agent who, even after 26 years, would always re-read contracts. I’d usually find a tidbit that I’d forgotten or had overlooked. Further, I could never get enough new ideas through reading periodicals, blogs, websites, or just listening to a colleague.
The same is true for the best F&I professionals. Their tools are never sharp enough, their knowledge never thorough enough. Their thirst for improvement is constant.
Frankly, until you sell everyone you see everything you have — and zero issues ever arise — you have room to improve. As the saying goes, “If you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse.”
4. They Lean on Their Agents and Reps.
I can’t tell you how many times I entered an office and found a manager that had a problem they couldn’t solve. I found myself frustrated when, upon offering to help, the usual response was “I’m fine. I’ll figure it out somehow.”
They were experiencing the same challenges encountered by most managers. I knew I could help them, and I would offer advice, but they were almost adamant in their refusal to accept my assistance.
Your reps are in multiple stores daily. If they are worth a salt, they want to help you in any way they can. You may be surprised at their suggestions and willingness to roll up their sleeves and assist you. Use them when possible.
I know I felt guilty if I didn’t leave each store having left at least one word of advice or suggestion
to improve that store’s results. Reps are more than trinket suppliers. They can make you successful if you let them.
5. They Have Fun!
Do you recall the excitement of your first day? Don’t forget it! You were thrilled at the challenge and loved every minute. How are you feeling now? Has it lost its thrill? Maybe you are taking it too seriously.
A saying I firmly believe is “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
Granted, what you do has serious implications. Whether it be legal, moral, or ethical, you have pressure on you. But you know that. These facts won’t change. You could at least smile and laugh while you perform your job.
Everyone has a success story of being a true hero to a customer. Revel in these moments and enjoy providing whatever assistance you can. I used to instruct finance managers that each customer should leave the finance office laughing. If they do that, they probably had fun with you, and vice versa. Usually a good CSI score followed.
6. They Think About the Team.
The best stores I encountered had everyone pulling in the same direction. There were no “sales vs. finance” or “used cars vs. service” disagreements. Everyone worked with and helped everyone else. The better the store did, the more everyone benefited.
As an F&I professional, there is much you can do for the organization. Help other departments, encourage struggling fellow employees. Work with your cohorts, not against them. Be a humble servant to everyone and success will follow. A team is only as strong as its weakest link. Make sure there are no weaknesses.
7. They Tend to the Office.
The one department that seems most overlooked is the accounting office. These individuals work tirelessly to ensure that all departments thrive. They often correct the mistakes made by others or, more commonly, put up with the continual shortcomings of employee performance.
In a nutshell, office staff are the glue that holds the organization together. And yet they are the least appreciated.
As an agent, I was always very sensitive to the office and their needs. A good manager should do the same. Buy them lunch or snacks, give them gifts. Most importantly, ask what you can do to make their jobs easier. A strong working relationship can make everyone’s job much more enjoyable and efficient.
8. They Sell the Industry.
I am continually amazed when I hear of the backgrounds of very successful people in this industry. Many had no college at all, or very little. Some came from completely unrelated industries. Yet these same people are often the cream of the crop. I’ve found that the automotive industry does not discriminate against those who want to be successful.
This industry, when properly run, can provide a great living for anyone. Often the incomes are substantial, and there is room for advancement.
Be proud of what you provide customers and encourage others to join in.
Today’s auto industry is not what it was even 10 years ago. We are open, consultative, and want to do the right thing for our customers, as well as our employees. Even technicians in service are not just “grease monkeys.” They need to understand computers to be truly successful. Technology has made the industry much more inviting to a wide assortment of potential employees.
As such, we as a collective group need to do a better job promoting our industry. Go to colleges, job fairs, and the like. Work with your local associations to promote working at a dealership. Be proud of what you provide customers and encourage others to join in. It really is a rewarding occupation and we provide a valuable service to our customers.
9. They Work to Live …
Put your job in the proper perspective. I’ve always believed a job is a means to an end. The end could be dream vacations, contributions to charitable causes you feel strongly about, providing for your family — anything you can dream of. Your time away from work is the reason you work in the first place.
It’s important to make your family, your faith, your life the focus of your efforts. Certainly when you are at work you will give your utmost effort. But you also must maximize your time away from the dealership.
Relish what your job has provided and enjoy it to the utmost. When you return to work, you will be refreshed and focused. Your performance will show improved results and you will truly appreciate what you have.
10. … But They Aren’t Just Working.
Sure, many of you will read this and think, “Duh.” But ask yourself this: If you adhered to all of these ideas, would you be a happier, more productive employee? Are you really dedicated to your craft, or are you just working?
If you want to be a professional, commit yourself to these ideas and enjoy the improvement at work and at home.
Doug Reeves is a former Colorado-based general agent and an experienced F&I trainer.